A senior North Korean diplomat strongly indicated that his country has no plans to abandon nuclear weapons unconditionally, despite its agreement to return to six-party talks, Japan's NHK TV reported.
North Korea's deputy foreign minister, Kang Sok-ju, speaking to a group of reporters while passing through Beijing from Russia, instead demanded that the US lift financial sanctions against the North.
NHK quoted Kang as saying that North Korea had not tested nuclear weapons only to abandon its program and get rid of them.
"Why would we abandon nuclear weapons?" NHK quoted Kang as saying.
"Are you saying we conducted a nuclear test in order to abandon them?" Kang added.
Asked if Pyongyang planned to demand that the US lift sanctions, Kang said "of course," NHK reported.
It added that the North planned to make the demand in preparatory meetings ahead of the expected resumption of six-party talks on the North's nuclear program.
North Korea's nuclear test, carried on Oct. 9, triggered international condemnations and a series of diplomatic and economic sanctions, with Japan and the US leading the attempt to dissuade Pyongyang from continuing to seek nuclear weapons.
In September last year, the North had agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.
It withdrew from talks two months later, protesting Washington's financial sanctions over suspected money laundering activities.
Pyongyang said early this month that it was willing to return to the talks, which some analysts believe could resume next month.
Kang was talking at Beijing's international airport on his way home from Russia, which he reportedly visited for unspecified medical treatment.
In Tokyo, government officials said that they could not immediately confirm the report but stressed that Pyongyang cannot be allowed to continue its development of nuclear weapons.
"North Korea has an obligation to give up all nuclear weapons and all existing nuclear programs," said Hiroshi Suzuki, deputy Cabinet secretary.
"The whole purpose of resuming the six-party talks is to make sure that we have tangible progress or concrete results," he said.